Why Teens Think & Act The Way They Do
Teen Brains Are Still Developing
As adults, we need to remember teenagers' brains are literally still a work in progress. There are areas in their brains that aren’t fully formed or structured. Here are the specifics:
The number of neural connections in an adolescent’s brain is changing. According to an article from Science ABC, adolescents start losing connections in their brain that they don’t use anymore. So, their brains eventually become a more structured, efficient system.
Science ABC shares a great metaphor. Imagine the brain is like the map of a city with houses and roads. There’s one row of empty houses with 15 roads leading to it. It doesn’t make sense to keep maintaining these 15 roads, because no one is using them. This is where synaptic pruning comes in.
By the time we become adults, our brains have higher quality wiring, because we are not wasting time and energy maintaining useless connections anymore.
Prefrontal Cortex Development
In addition to quantity, the quality of the neural connections that still exist are vastly different.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, gives a fascinating TED Talk, The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain. She talks about how teens’ prefrontal cortex is going through dramatic development. This area of the brain is involved with planning, social interactions, and stopping yourself from saying something unpleasant.
The prefrontal cortex is sometimes called the “rational part of the brain”; it deals with logic and making choices. So, this explains teens’ risk-taking tendencies and occasional lack of common sense.
If you raise, teach, or guide teens and are asked to describe them, the word “emotional” is bound to come up. It’s not only because their hormones are running wild, but because their amygdala isn’t fully developed. This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, so it’s no wonder teens have difficulty regulating them.
According to PBS, “At the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and a group of researchers have studied how adolescents perceive emotion as compared to adults. The scientists looked at the brains of 18 children between the ages of 10 and 18 and compared them to 16 adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both groups were shown pictures of adult faces and asked to identify the emotion on the faces. Using fMRI, the researchers could trace what part of the brain responded as subjects were asked to identify the expression depicted in the picture.”
Teens had trouble responding to different emotions, probably because they’re not even correctly recognizing them, or recognizing them at all.
In adults, this is fully developed. We can regulate our emotions, (or at least our amygdala has the ability to do this!)
How to Use This Knowledge in Your Classroom
To work with teens’ ever-changing brains, it’s essential to teach with CREATIVITY. Be adaptable, use input that suits their brain processing, and be ready to problem-solve! Here are some things that will help you:
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Use Pinterest to Help You
Any other Pinterest Addicts out there?! If you’re not already obsessed, you’re missing out.
This platform not only provides endless inspiration and countless classroom ideas and strategies, but some studies show that most teachers are heavily relying on it to help develop lesson plans and curriculum.
In case you missed it, I rounded up 8 of my all-time favorite Pinterest boards specifically for teaching teens (including some of my own I’ve been building to help you out!).
With these boards, there will never be a lack of fantastic ideas on your feed, including everything from top-notch behavior management techniques to uniquely engaging strategies!
Allow Them to Foster Their Own Creativity
Teaching creatively sometimes means letting THEM get creative. With strict standards and testing requirements, you might be shaking your head and thinking, “There’s just not enough time.”
But that may not be the case! Have you tried doodle notes yet? Doodle notes are doodle-friendly note sheets with embedded brain-based features that teachers can use as an introduction to a topic, extra practice, or even review. Instead of doing extra projects or “fluff” activities to add teen-friendly options, just replace your standard note taking with this method.
This creative strategy helps teens brains to STRENGTHEN the neural connections they need while they are still in the process of pruning those that they don't. The relaxation benefit also helps with regulating the emotions they struggle with due to the brain anatomy described above.
The brain benefits of blending the left and right hemispheres through creative teaching methods can help with these challenges during the teen years. When learning may not feel like a priority for them, creative teaching strategies can help a tough, overwhelming lesson seem approachable and less intimidating.
Incorporating color and doodling into lessons is actually proven to greatly improve students' focus and retention as well. Plus, they’re so fun and colorful! Students love them and will be proud to study from them and frequently reference them.
Join the Conversation
We have a facebook group designed just for you! It's completely free to join, and offers a place to touch base with other teachers of teenage students. All middle and high school teachers are welcome.
Comejoin the group, and then either sit back and read everyone else's insights, or dive in and ask a question. What do you need help with in your classroom? The group chat is a perfect place to ask for advice and chat with other teachers who get it!
So, the next time one of your teenage students does something like skip all homework assignments then BEG for extra credit (We’ve all been there, right?!) keep this neuroscience in mind. Their brains are just not fully developed!
To go back and read Part 1 of this series and learn about the difference between boy and girl teenage brains, click here.
Differences in Neural Anatomy
Male and female brains physically look different. According to this article from Salon, “The fact that there are differences in neural anatomy between the two sexes, however, is undisputed. The differences are present in early fetal life, as hormones already have altered the destiny of brain regions that are set up to go either way in the embryo. This is called sexual dimorphism, and one region that is heavily altered by early differences in levels of the female hormone estrogen or the male hormone testosterone is the hypothalamus.”
A post from education.com tells us that boys have more gray matter, while girls have more white matter in their brains. “Gray matter localizes brain activity in a single part of the brain, rather than spreading to other parts of the brain. White matter connects brain activity to different parts of the brain, including emotion centers.”
Waffle vs. Spaghetti Brains
It’s been scientifically proven that boy and girl brains don’t just look different, but are wired differently. I love the “Waffle brain vs. Spaghetti brain” analogy from this article from archnews.com. They studied brain scans of men and women when solving a problem.
“When men put their minds to work, the neuron activity in their brains lit up in highly specialized areas. When women put their minds to work, the neuron activity in their brains lit up throughout their brains.”
Basically, the male brain is wired to compartmentalize information, like the precise, individual squares in a big Belgian waffle.
The female brain, on the other hand, has a lot of thoughts going on at once; picture a plate of spaghetti, with the ability to smoothly slide from one thought to the other.
Male brain tendencies:
Female brain tendencies:
How to Use This in Your Classroom
I feel like the world makes so much more sense now! There is just no denying it. Boys’ and girls’ brains are inherently different, yet neither is “better” than the other. Here are a few ideas to incorporate this new knowledge.
Remember both have strengths and weaknesses:
Whenever you are grouping your class, keep in mind boys and girls have various strengths and weaknesses. So, whether they are having a group discussion or solving a problem together, consider mixing up boys and girls. This will maximize their strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses!
The collaboration of different mental approaches may help them to put all the pieces together and build concepts in a stronger, more rounded way.
Allow for student choice:
Since boys and girls think differently, it’s important to acknowledge this and help them to understand their thinking as individuals. So, whenever you have the opportunity, allow students to pick and choose everything from taking notes to answering test questions.
Try things like choice boards or open-ended activities, so everyone can accomplish the same learning goal through methods that are most geared toward their own brain and preferences.
Girls may prefer to be multi-tasking with activities like doodle notes, while boys may prefer to focus in on one task or idea at a time. Plan your classes to try to accommodate the needs of both. And take input from the students! Not all of this is set in stone for every single student. Remember that these are brain-based tendencies, not laws. Many teachers have mentioned how surprised they are that the boys love multi-tasking with doodle notes as much as girls do! Kids may be surprised at what ends up helping them focus and learn.
Strategize important one-on-one conversations:
It turns out that many males are more comfortable having an important conversation while sitting or standing side-by-side, while females prefer eye contact. When you need to sit down with a student, consider walking down the hall with a teen boy while chatting about the important topic, or sit down in the chair next to him in the classroom. While tackling a tough conversation with a teen girl, try to instead pull a chair around to the other side of the desk so you can face her.
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Why You Cannot Overlook or Underestimate this Review Strategy, Plus Answers to All Your Questions About Implementing Visual Study Guides in Your Own Classroom
Ok, so the big idea is this -- Blending text and visuals together has been proven to boost the brain’s ability to convert learned information into long-term memory.
This is so important to truly understand and apply, but we tend to greatly underestimate this proven research and its impact on learning. Most teachers probably feel this intuitively, deep down. But do we REALLY do our best to blend these two teaching strategies seamlessly in each and every lesson? Not always. We fall into our normal notes-and-lecture routine, then review with practice problems or questions, and once in a while try to incorporate a visual when we can.
But this idea is so critical to student learning and memory.
If your kids tend to forget when it comes to test time, or not quite see the connections between ideas, you may need to up your graphic / linguistic blending efforts! This is the key to students’ ability to move that new information out of working memory and into long-term memory to actually retain it.
My biggest goal lately has been to set students up for success in making those mental connections. I’ve been all about the cooperation of visual and linguistic brain pathways. In an effort to help kids focus and remember their lesson content, I have developed doodle notes, dug into brain research on how kids learn, and explored new ways to help them process information in more effective ways. I’ve recently made what I feel has become one of the most useful teaching resources to work toward that goal: Graphic Organizer Review Cards. It’s essentially a HUGE deck of bite-sized doodle note templates.
The graphic organizers are designed to give students options for how to organize different types of information, get them thinking about connections, and help them study and remember. In the classroom, these cards become templates where kids can easily review and process information by creating visual study guides.
I wanted to share some inside information on how these cards work and offer some inspiration to implement them, so you can maximize all of the incredible benefits!
But First, What Are Graphic Organizers?
Graphic Organizers are tools used to visually organize information. They’re extremely powerful in the classroom. We use graphic organizers (think Venn Diagram, flow chart, web...) to help kids build a mental connection between related ideas. Different concepts fit into different organizer layouts that are visually memorable.
Why We Use Graphic Organizers
As teachers, we frequently have our students use graphic organizers, because visually representing the material improves understanding of the content, which leads to better retention.
A graphic layout is key to effective note-taking. The typical list form (or outline) note method does not trigger memory as well. In order for students to convert new info into long-term memory more effectively, they need to incorporate pictorial representations.
According to Teach Hub, “Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences posits that students are better able to learn and internalize information when more than one learning modality is employed in an instructional strategy. Since graphic organizers present material through the visual and spatial modalities (and reinforce what is taught in the classroom), the use of graphic organizers helps students internalize what they are learning. They also of course incorporate text and language input.
Graphic organizers also incorporate dual-coding theory, leading to an increased understanding of the material and a stronger memory of it.
How They Help Students Make Connections
A key part of learning is seeing connections and understanding relationships between ideas. Memorizing facts separately is not nearly as effective as seeing the big picture along with the details.
It’s important for students to ask, how do the concepts interact and relate to one another? Sometimes one idea leads to another and can be represented with an arrow or flowchart. Sometimes, we have a hierarchy of information, which can fit into a pyramid shape or a funnel, depending on the content. Often, we have a web of interconnected ideas that all link back to one big concept.
Students can use visual representations of the ideas to build a mind map of the connections and relationships. By choosing an effective layout for a graphic organizer, they think critically about the type of information and how to best present it. They can create a visual study guide that reflects all the ideas they are learning and how they work together.
If you would like to read more about how graphic organizers improve the development of mental connections, read this recent blog post.
Old Graphic Organizers vs. New Doodle-friendly Graphic Organizers
I remember sitting in middle school and filling in a Venn Diagram, copying the teachers’ exact words on the board with nothing but a simple number 2 pencil. We had to just copy the points from each circle on the board into the corresponding area on our own page. This was only one of many graphic organizers that our teachers used to help us visualize the given knowledge in my school years.
The problem was not the Venn Diagram, itself; there is nothing wrong with these! The problem lies in the assignment. There is no active-learning going on, no connections being made.
So, how do you make learning more active? How do you allow students to make connections?
The answer is actually very simple! Use these Graphic Organizer Cards when reviewing a lesson or for tests and quizzes as manageable, visual study guides.
This huge deck of cards includes 100 of what I like to call “bite-sized doodle notes”. They get students really interacting with and processing the content.
If you’re unfamiliar, doodle notes take advantage of biological brain processing to increase student focus and boost retention! If you’re not already familiar with the brain benefits, visit doodlenotes.org for more information!
Tips on Using the Graphic Organizer Cards
This deck for purchase has SUCH a wide variety of layouts for any type of possible lesson content. They have 2, 3, 4, subcategory possibilities, layered/ hierarchy possibilities, flowchart style possibilities, webs, and more! (This pack can be used for ANY subject, and ANY grade level. – I just got a sneak peek at how a Kindergarten teacher used them for 5-year old students last week!)
Since this deck of cards is extremely versatile, figuring out where to begin can be a little daunting. Here are some ideas I recommend:
1. After a lesson is complete, allow your students to select a card from the deck themselves to review the content. Be sure to have plenty of copies of various cards! This allows them to mentally process the new information and get it down on paper, which will greatly improve retention.
2. Pre-select a card that you feel best fits the lesson material from yesterday and have students complete it as a bell-ringer/ warm-up. Ask students to sum of the content and organize the key ideas from the previous day’s lesson.
3. Laminate them and use in centers or stations with whiteboard markers. This will be a temporary version, but much more printer-friendly and save tons of paper.
4. Always have a giant collection of blank cards on hand, so they are ready at all times. Allow your students to choose one layout that goes with the content. This ensures they are processing the information to determine the best structure.
5. To simplify and save time, pre-select a handful of 5 cards that make sense for the lesson. Students will have SOME choice, but only out of the layouts you feel will best help them understand the relationship between the ideas in this particular lesson.
6. To keep everything organized, sort your decks by type of organizer. Label baskets by the type of layout (hierarchy, linear, compare/contrast, cause/effect, etc.) or by number of sub-topics or categories (2, 3, 4, 5 segments). This will make it more straight-forward to choose a card.
7. In the file, there are some blank cards on which you can create your own layouts before making copies! You can customize the design to your own lessons.
8. Allow students to use the blank cards at the end to design their own custom layouts.
9. Have students color in each border in coordinating colors to show each different chapter or unit of study. Use a different color for each unit and post the color code on the board, so everyone can sort and organize their cards. Leave room to add to the color code throughout the year.
10. Allow students to create a mini-deck during a review day. They can identify the 5 major concepts from the unit. They can begin creating during class and finish at home as part of the study process.
11. Print on sticker paper, or offer glue sticks. Students can stick these right inside their notebooks!
Additionally, in the file, you will receive many pictures, samples, and ideas for inspiration and awesome storage tips!
By the end of the year, your kids will each have a deck of study guides covering the whole year's worth of content. They can use them to review and carry them on to the next school year.
If you think your class needs an introduction to graphic organizers, or just some more practice or exposure before diving into Graphic Organizer Cards, then check out this post, Organizing Information with a FREE download!
Want to take a closer look at the possibility of using this card deck to make it all happen for your class? Watch the video preview here:
Click the image below to purchase the full deck of 100 graphic cards.
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